JUST IMAGINE: Little Bits of Sky was your debut novel; were you surprised by the success of this?
SUE DURRANT: I was very surprised. I thought it was probably too quiet a book so when Nosy Crow were so enthusiastic about it I was astonished. Every reader who has enjoyed it since has been a cherry on the cake.
JI: Can you tell us a little about your background & your journey to finally getting published?
SD: I studied Fine Art after which I travelled widely, painting and taking on seasonal work. I then moved to London and took on all sorts of jobs including teaching art, working in galleries, painting and office temping. For many years I put together research bids at the University of London.
Throughout my life I have always written – diaries, radio plays, short stories etc. I had a few travel articles published and some interest in other writing but for the most part I accumulated a pile of unpublished writing.
When my children were small we often read together and I particularly liked the way Michael Morpurgo’s set his stories in real situations. I decided to try to write a children’s book set in the fairly recent past. The book I came up with was Little Bits of Sky.
I sent the manuscript to Gillie Russell of Aitken Alexander and, fortunately, she loved it. Had she returned it I don’t think I would have sent it to anyone else. Gillie sent it to Nosy Crow and I was delighted when the whole Nosy Crow team read it and wanted to publish it.
JI: Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
SD: I’m interested in real lives, social realism I suppose, and the quiet stories of unseen heroes. Ira, in Little Bits of Sky, is my unseen hero.
During the late 1980s I was teaching art at an after school club in South London. Although the children I taught had no interest in the poll tax, there was evidence of it all around them – sheets hung from buildings, posters in windows etc. When I came to write the book this seemed an interesting period to write about.
Setting the book in 1989 meant that I didn’t have to involve mobile phones or social media – I don’t think my story would have worked had it been set today. It also allowed me to lift the children out of their uncertain lives and briefly bring them into the present as adults.
JI: Little Bits of Sky is one of the books included in our 2018 Reading Gladiators™ programme (our annual school-based reading programmes designed to challenge, motivate & inspire higher attaining readers) & in a recent set of questions from the children reading it, they asked how you came up with title for this?
SD: It was very difficult to find a title that felt right. At one point the book was called Steps (because Ira likes to count steps when she goes to a new place). After I had spent a lot of time agonising over titles, my daughter went through the text and pulled out phrases she thought might work. I chose a few I liked and sent them to Nosy Crow. Little Bits of Sky was one of them.
‘Little Bits Of Sky’ comes from Ira and Zac walking through the woods with Martha to collect eggs. Ira looks up and can only see ‘little bits of sky’ through the trees.
JI: Your latest book Running on Empty involves the main character using running as his escape from his grief & anxiety; did you need to do much research into the world of running for this?
SD: I did a little bit of research into running (shoes, speeds etc.) but mostly I thought about my own children running and remembered that wonderful feeling as a child of believing you can run forever and getting lost in the sound of your feet on the ground.
JI: And finally, what can we hope to see from you next?
SD: My next book is at an early stage but is essentially about how memories make us who we are. A central feature will be the relationship between a child and her grandmother who has dementia.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.
Little Bits of Sky & Running on Empty are both published by Nosy Crow